Dr VS Ajgaonkar, a diabetologist who worked for the welfare of those with juvenile diabetes, passed away in Mu…Read More
MUMBAI: All doctors can treat, but only a few can heal. Young diabetics from the city and beyond say they have lost their healing touch with the demise of Dr Vijay S Ajgaonkar. The Mumbai-based diabetologist passed away at his Juhu residence early on Tuesday (August 11). He was 89.
Besides his family members and close associates, people living with juvenile diabetes from across India shared fond memories of the doctor who brought together those living with juvenile diabetes in the early 1980s when the chronic medical condition was little known even within the medical fraternity in India.
Juvenile diabetes, also known as type 1 diabetes, is a chronic disorder in which the pancreas stops producing insulin due to which blood sugar levels tend to rise. A person with type 1 diabetes requires to take daily shots of insulin and do regular blood tests to monitor sugar levels.
Mumbai resident Namrata Dhanak, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 12, recalls her first meeting with Dr Ajgaonkar where he instilled hope in her. “Soon after diagnosis, I felt there was no future. I was completely broken… When I first met him, he asked me what I wanted to become when I grew up,” says Namrata, a UX designer who lives in suburban Goregaon. “It proved to be a defining moment. He gave hope to my shattered mind and soul.”
The talk of future plans calmed the little girl. Only later did the doctor go on to discuss clinical matters. “That first meeting instilled so much of hope in me,” recalls Namrata, a member of Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (Maharashtra Chapter), a support group for young diabetics founded by the late doctor.
His connect with those having juvenile diabetes surpassed geographical boundaries, across the country and yonder. The reason why he was part of Type 1 Diabetes Foundation of India, a national platform for people with juvenile diabetes. Lakshminarayana Varimadugu (25), who hails from Anantapuram in Andhra Pradesh, recalls how the doctor influenced him in just a couple of meetings at a diabetes education camp organised by Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. “I felt an instant connect with him,” says Lakshminarayana, who has been visually impaired from birth and was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes eight years ago. “Dr Ajgaonkar encouraged me to reach out to others with juvenile diabetes. And I will take his mission forward by reaching out to others like me in Andhra and Telangana to begin with,” says Lakshminarayana, a post-graduate in political science from University of Hyderabad who now aspires to be a diabetes educator.
Neha Seigell (38), originally from Jalandhar in Punjab and now settled in Melbourne, said she owes all her initial knowledge about juvenile diabetes to Dr Ajgaonkar. Neha has had type 1 diabetes since age 7.
His connect went beyond those living with diabetes. Dr Ajgaonkar, who had been into clinical practice for more than 50 years, was just as popular in the medical fraternity. Almost all doctors who have studied in Mumbai have been his students, notes Dr Shekhar Ambardekar, a cardiologist. “I’ve been his student from 1973 to 1974 and he was a fantastic teacher,” Dr Ambardekar says, adding that Dr Ajgaonkar’s lectures spilled over beyond the realm of the textbook and factored in humane aspects of being a doctor. “He would often stress upon of the importance of compassion for patients. He taught us that a patient should be treated as a human being,” Dr Ambardekar told TOI, adding that he himself now tries to implement this value in his clinical practice.
The teacher in Dr Ajgaonkar continued to learn till the last days of his life, points out his grandson, Mihir Suvanam (33) who works for a multinational company. “He always had an open mind and was willing to learn from people much younger than him. He believed in updating himself, not just with medical developments but even dabbled with technology, for instance,” says Mihir. That should explain why Dr Ajgaonkar chose to pursue a post-graduation degree in history at Mumbai University when he was in his late 70s.
He usually wore a shirt and trousers or kurta, says Mihir. But whenever had to attend medical conferences and had to be attired in a suit, he would seek advice and validation from Mihir or someone else in the family to check if the colour of his suit went well with the tie. “I used to find that really cute about him,” says Mihir. “He was, in fact, the coolest member of our family.”
For now, Dr Ajgaonkar’s dream at Juvenile Diabetes Foundation continues. The mission began in the early ’80s when it was a sorry state for kids with diabetes, recalls Dr Aspi Irani, a paediatrician with special interest in paediatric diabetes who has been associated with Juvenile Diabetes Foundation for more than 36 years. “In those early days, Dr Ajgaonkar invited me to work with him as he felt that kids with diabetes needed more than just a prescription for insulin. They and their families had to be educated about diabetes to make them independent. They also needed counselling as the life-long condition can take a toll on mental health,” says Dr Irani.
In the early days, the young kids and their parents often asked, ‘why me?’ So, all kids with diabetes were brought together to meet others sailing in the same boat. “Our work gave me tremendous satisfaction as I saw a remarkable change in the lives of these children and their families,” points out Dr Irani.
Now, with Dr Ajgaonkar’s passing, will the mission to work for those with juvenile diabetes still soldier on? “Of course, yes,” asserts Dr Irani. “The good work has to continue, and it surely will.”